Historically, the winter Solstice was always a time for homecoming. In cosmic terms, it is when the Earth begins to tilt back towards the Sun, gradually returning more light to our days. But like the celestial bodies, people from many cultures would also return to their heart’s home for the holy days ahead.

In ancient China, they would close the passes at Solstice. No merchants could travel, not even royalty would visit other regions. Instead, they returned to “where they should be” both in the literal sense of going home, and figuratively to one’s spiritual well. 

In Taoism, the wisdom of the Solstice is contained in the I-Ching hexagram fu(Chinese: 复, “Returning”). In fu, there is only one Yang line, nestled under five open Yin lines. With Yin at its absolute peak, many feel the weight of that cold, still, darkness and with it, a feeling of drained vitality, or the disorientation of having lost your way.

But down below the exhaustion and confusion, the earliest rebirth of Yang is also taking place. This is the nascent energy fomenting in restoration that will carry us into the next season. If we move too quickly now, or push ourselves into action, we could lose that still-fragile, germinating brilliance. So above all, our work in this time is to be quiet, heal, and restore on every level.

More than a physiological necessity, hibernation is when we recuperate emotionally and spiritually from the demands of the “outward” seasons. Like a wanderer who has strayed too far from their true path, we may need to reflect on how we got here, acknowledging both the distances we’ve come but also the losses and estrangements that resulted from our big moves. We may even need to face the veracity of our own motives.

While it may feel like a lack of progress, return is always developmental. When we have grown too distant from our true nature, we have to stop, retrace our steps, and reconnect with the essence of who we are. The ancient Confucion philosopher Zhou Dunyi described this kind of progress as a “slow return to original sincerity.” Like drawing down into the stem of one’s character, return pulls us into our origins.

If Solstice were a question, it might ask, “From what have I strayed too far?” In the haste of activity and progress, what essential values have I left behind? What did an earlier version of me know better than I? As we transition from the active, outward life to an inner opening, we may discover a disconnect between our aims in the world and the way our soul longs to sing. We can ask, Does my intent line up with my actions, and capacity for those actions?”

We may not have any answers to these questions, but Returning counsels us to nurture them in silence. As I-Ching scholar James Legge phrases it, “As the spring of life has to be nurtured in quietness, so also the purpose of goodness.” Let us hold Goodness as the fulcrum upon which our questions pivot. As we “close the passes” on worldly demands, let us recognise the rising goodness within. This light may be no more than a twinkle in what feels like the longest dark, but in this way it is easily recognisable. It is a return to this sincerity that is being asked of us, and is what will put us back in right relation with all of nature. What familiar goodness is stirring in you again?

With that, I wish you all my love for meaningful Solstice season and a bright next cycle,